President’s export plan simply imports Europe’s corporatism 

"Germany is the model.”

General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt, opening for President Barack Obama at the annual conference of the federal export-subsidy agency, phrased Obama’s industrial policy in terms that were not quite as focus-grouped as the president’s.

Immelt was at the Export-Import Bank’s conference rallying the troops behind Obama’s National Export Initiative, aimed at doubling U.S. exports in five years. Immelt praised Germany and Japan’s policies of “government and business working as a pack.”

The GE chief lamented that “for so long, we’ve said, ‘It just doesn’t matter. Let whatever happens happen.’”

Immelt is much more blunt than the president. The economics Immelt derides are known as the free enterprise system. The economics Immelt advocates are known as corporate socialism, or corporatism.

Obama is too savvy, and much too scripted, to use the same words as Immelt. But, he has the same vision.

A CEO speaking to a crowd of global producers, sellers and lenders can get approving nods for scolding us to get in line with Germany and other countries. The president, who’s always speaking to the whole electorate, knows that American voters don’t go for that we-need-to-be-more-like-Europe talk. So, Obama has taken that same idea and packaged it in a way that appeals to American exceptionalism.

“If we stand on the sidelines,” the president said Thursday, “while they [China and Germany] go after those customers, we’ll lose out on the chance to create the good jobs our workers need right here at home. That’s why standing on the sidelines is not what we intend to do. We need to up our game.”

By “up our game,” Obama largely means increase government subsidies for exporters. This requires us to “summon a sense of national purpose” and “come together in common cause,” the president said.

Such inspirational hope-and-change talk is Obama’s forte, but in the context of commerce, “national purpose” and “common cause,” it’s a departure from America’s traditions. Competition, not cooperation, has made us the most prosperous economy in the world.

The Obama administration and the staff at the Export-Import Bank are trying to shift more resources toward small businesses. Obama can reduce some obstacles, but this much will never change: Government subsidies disproportionately go to those with the best lobbyists and the strongest political connections.

Low entrepreneurship means security for the powers that be. It’s a poor model for prosperity — unless you’re General Electric.

Timothy P. Carney is the Washington Examiner’s lobbying editor.

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